I’ve lived in almost abject fear of Amsterdam ever since boys from Sixth Form would boast about how they were arranging the dirtiest weekend away imaginable. Unfortunately, this seems to be the connotations Amsterdam evokes. Even the Immigration officer at Gatwick airport said with a smirk ‘Amsterdam? Have a great time away’ – okay, that doesn’t say much, but it was the tone in which he said it. We all know that in Amsterdam, prostitution is as legal as smoking cannabis. Two of the very activities that have personally put me off from visiting for a long time. Well, finally I’ve visited and this is what I thought about the destination.
It’s different, in every way
Last year I had a blogging adventure in Rotterdam which was wonderful, but everyone knows that Amsterdam is the city in the Netherlands that everyone wants to visit. So I appreciate the Rotterdam Tourism folk trying to convince tourists to fly to Rotterdam instead of Amsterdam, but for us Brits there really is no need. It was a mere 45 minute flight to reach Amsterdam Airport and if you really wanted to visit Rotterdam, just jump on a train and explore for a day. Although you’ll probably just end up staying in Amsterdam because the city is just a maze waiting to be explored. That’s if you can negotiate your way across the roads; dodging trams, bicycles, mopeds and cars that don’t always stop for the red light. Then you’ll probably end up falling into a canal! Simply walking about the city is a delight though.
Unless you prefer to have a canal cruise through the winding city, which allows you to see some of the key tourist attractions from a different perspective. Noteworthy attractions for me were cruising past a multi story bicycle park with 2,500 spaces (it was full), seeing the different types of houseboats and the sheer size of the canal system. At one point we could see down a stretch of canal lined with dozens of bridges in front of each other.
For those who like shopping, you’ll find plenty of places to visit.
History is closer than you think
Before visiting Amsterdam I must admit, I wasn’t that fussed about visiting the Anne Frank House and Museum. I knew the queues would be big and after speaking to a couple who live in Amsterdam (sat next to them when watching Phantom of the Opera in London, early January) understood the museum ran on a sort of tourist conveyer belt system. You are shuffled through the house and connected museum, stopping occasionally to watch videos and when there are people-jams up ahead.
All I can say is, you must visit.
History is a lot closer than you think when you wander through the Anne Frank house. You realise just how recent the liberation of the Netherlands was and how dreadfully incomprehensible the tragedies of World War 2 were. This was reality, the left behind scribblings and pinups on Anne Frank’s bedroom wall makes that clear. The fear the family must have gone through is too unbearable to think about and the hopes they must have had to make it through the war unharmed.
You must visit the house.
I wasn’t able to take any pictures inside, which was a delight in itself. There is nothing more frustrating that having people standing in front of you constantly snapping away! The Anne Frank Museum is a key piece of history which everyone should visit if you find yourself in Amsterdam. I recommend visiting the museum later in the day, maybe around 7pm. The queue only took 45 minutes although be prepared to wrap up warm, the wind was freezing!
I shuffled through Amsterdam’s red light district late in the afternoon, as the sun was preparing to set. As a bashful Brit I wasn’t too sure where to look and I felt the whole area was really hiding the true Amsterdam, the one that proudly showed itself off during the canal tour a day earlier. Prostitutes were exhibiting their goods in windows and tall men patiently stood outside the doors of live sex shows, waiting to welcome passerbys in. I didn’t stop walking – I didn’t dare, although couldn’t help overhearing one conversation.
“So, what is this then, a video?”
“No, this is live porn, the real thing.”
“Okay, what do we think guys? How much does it cost to get in?”
“30 EUR each. No discounts.”
People were urinating in the streets, although the area wasn’t nearly as sordid as my imagination. I’m sure after 11pm the area changes a lot, but in the afternoon is was okay. Quite safe to explore during the day. Although the Amsterdam Tourist Board will advise to visit as a couple or group.
I loved Amsterdam and it offered a nice breakaway from London. It’s worth visiting and the city is a lot more than red lights. In fact, 95% of Amsterdam is more than prostitution. Although you will see a lot of coffee shops! Perhaps that is why everyone is so friendly?